World News

Jordan warns of full lockdown after virus cases surge

AMMAN (Reuters) - Jordan warned on Wednesday it could be forced to return to a full lockdown, potentially devastating its fragile economy, after recording 1,767 new cases of COVID-19, its highest daily tally since the start of the outbreak.

People wearing protective face masks wait to complete their transactions in the Civil Status Department after Jordan's public sector employees returned gradually to work, two months after they were ordered to stay home as part of a tight lockdown to stem the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Amman, Jordan May 26, 2020. REUTERS/Muhammad Hamed/Files

The country’s total number of confirmed infections now stands at 11,816, with 61 deaths since the first case surfaced in early March, Health Minister Saad Jaber said in a statement.

Jordan, which had some of the lowest numbers of infections in the region in the first few months of the pandemics’ spread, has seen daily numbers rise alarmingly this month, with health officials saying the country now faced a community spread.

The government could be forced to impose a full lockdown that would paralyse daily activity and suspend businesses if a “dangerous” spiral of cases made it difficult for health authorities to cope, government spokesman Amjad Adailah said.

“This is matter that no one wants,” he said referring to a doubling of daily cases within the last week.

The government also stiffened jail sentences to up to a year for anyone organising weddings, parties, funerals or social gatherings where more than 20 people attend, in the latest measures to impose health safeguards.

A two-week closure of schools was extended for more than two million pupils who had briefly resumed attendance at the start of the month after a five-month absence.

Mosques and places of workshop, however, will be allowed to reopen as of Thursday, along with restaurants, but with much stricter health safeguards.

The government fears a full lockdown would deal a devastating blow to an aid-dependent economy that is forecast to shrink 6% this year, its first decline in decades, and faces deepening unemployment, poverty and prospects of civil unrest.

Officials said they will enforce as of Thursday a lockdown of Baqaa camp on the outskirts of the capital, one of the largest Palestinian refugees camps in the Middle East. The camp houses more than 200,000 people, but has recorded many infections.

Reporting by Suleiman Al-Khalidi; editing by William Maclean and Richard Pullin